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    ISAS Insights

    ISAS publishes a regular series of insights which reflect the perspectives and views of ISAS researchers and consultants on South Asia’s developments.​​

    Insights: The Evolving Contours of E-commerce in India

    Dipinder S Randhawa

    6 December, 2019

    The e-commerce landscape in India is changing rapidly, as cash-rich, globally renowned firms announce their intention to enter the domestic arena in India. Concurrently, e-commerce is engendering rapid change in the thousands of small firms listed base and is evolving into a surprisingly robust medium for the inclusion of hitherto neglected groups into mainstream retail.

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    Insights: The Case for Early Childhood Intervention in Education

    Dipinder S Randhawa

    6 December, 2019

    Cross-country research in recent years has confirmed what many parents believed for years that teaching children early in life through exposure to stimuli through play and observation cultivates instincts to explore and learn. Research indicates that early childhood education yields the highest returns on investment in any segment of education. It can help mitigate socioeconomic inequalities and enrich prospects for economic advancement.

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    Insights: Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election 2019: A New President and the Politics of Balances

    Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

    3 December, 2019

    The recent Sri Lankan election witnessed the Rajapaksa brothers – Gotabaya and Mahinda – coming to power. Gotabaya, former secretary of defence and a technocrat with little political experience, was elected president while Mahinda, former two-time president who ended the protracted civil war during his term 10 years ago, was sworn in as prime minister. The new president faces the twin internal challenges of balancing nationalist and liberal values and introducing a new political culture with emphasis on meritocracy and technocracy. On external relations, past Sri Lankan leaders have leaned towards a single power for economic support and this superseded everything else. It will be interesting to see if Gotabaya’s foreign policy will be different from that of his brother and the other leaders, and if he will be able to balance the triple sphere of influence – India, China and the United States – with his ‘neutral’ foreign policy focus.

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    Insights: Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election 2019: Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Likely Impact on Social Cohesion in Sri Lanka

    La Toya Waha

    28 November, 2019

    As the new president of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policies will have a great impact on the development of the country. His figure, for many reasons, is a controversial one. Looking at his past and at his promises during the election campaign, the paper seeks to investigate the impact Gotabaya’s presidency might have on the social cohesion in Sri Lanka.

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    Insights: Beyond Non-alignment: S Jaishankar’s Reflections on Indian Foreign Policy

    C Raja Mohan

    25 November, 2019

    A lecture on the evolution of Indian foreign policy by India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, on 14 November 2019 is likely to go down as an important marker in the national and international debate on independent India’s international relations. In calling for a serious audit of the nation’s foreign policy record, questioning much of the conventional wisdom and emphasising greater risk-taking, Jaishankar provides for a better understanding of the current dynamic shaping Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy, especially Delhi’s new self-assurance in engaging the major powers.

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    Insights: Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election 2019: Gotabaya’s World

    S D Muni

    22 November, 2019

    Gotabaya Rajapaksa has won the Sri Lankan presidency by raising domestic issues of internal security governance. Foreign policy was generally left out of the electoral contest except for stray references that he would restore normal relations with China. Nonetheless, the new president faces a difficult challenge of harmoniously balancing the intensely competing stakeholders in the Indo-pacific region where Sri Lanka is strategically located. The Rajapaksas have enjoyed very close relations with China and Gotabaya would continue to keep China in good humour by encouraging growing Chinese investments in Sri Lanka. However, he needs to take care in keeping strategic underpinnings of Chinese projects away so as not to offend sensitivities of other stakeholders in the region like India and the United States (US). Restraining China strategically may not be easy because China will insist on its pound of strategic flesh for the huge investments made. India has begun with a positive note on Gotabaya and the bilateral mutual understanding will flourish following his first foreign state visit to New Delhi this month. India is also expected to go more than half the way in accommodating the new Colombo regime by dropping issues like implementation of 13th Amendment. Gotabaya has deep bonds with the US and would be responsive to its strategic concerns in the region, though he may not oblige the Western friends on issues like post 2009 war human rights and domestic freedom.

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    Insights: Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election 2019: The Prospect of a Sajith Premadasa Victory

    Roshni Kapur and Chulanee Attanayake

    15 November, 2019

    Summary

    Sajith Premadasa is the presidential nominee for the United National Party (UNP), which is part of the National Democratic Front coalition. The UNP, despite major electoral defeats for years, has managed to survive as the biggest party in Sri Lanka’s political arena. Its poor performance under the Yahapalana (good governance) government, coupled with political infighting, though, has disenchanted many UNP supporters. Against this backdrop, Premadasa faces a difficult task in persuading voters that the UNP deserves a second chance in the upcoming election.


    Introduction

    The centre-right United National Party (UNP) has nominated Sajith Premadasa as its candidate for the forthcoming presidential election. Premadasa, the incumbent Housing Minister and only son of former president Ranasinghe Premadasa, was announced the party’s presidential nominee after weeks of tension and uncertainty. There was a persisting power struggle between him and outgoing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The Working Committee finally made the decision following discussions between the Premadasa and Wickremesinghe camps. The power struggle within the UNP was an embarrassing situation for the party that has only helped cede ground to the main political opponent, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

    The UNP, under the Yahapalana government, has performed poorly in the last four-and-half years. The National Unity Government, formed by the UNP and sections of Sri Lanka Freedom Party after ousting Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015, assured the public that it would tackle corruption and high inflation, promote post-war reconciliation, restore democracy, hold the accused accountable and move the foreign policy to a middle-path. However, most of the electoral promises remained unfulfilled. Moreover, the administrative, ideological and personality differences between President Maithripala Sirisena and Wickremesinghe came into play. Wickremesinghe’s pro-Western and economic liberalisation policies clashed with Sirisena’s protectionism and Sinhalese nationalism, throwing the country into instability. It resulted in the political crisis in October 2018 when Sirisena unlawfully dismissed Wickremesinghe.

    The UNP, along with the support of smaller parties, has now formed the National Democratic Front to contest the elections under the swan symbol. Some of these parties include the Tamil Progress Alliance, Tamil National Alliance, Ceylon Makkal Congress and All Ceylon Makkal Congress. Till date, the UNP’s campaign has been incoherent and idealistic. There is criticism that the UNP manifesto is rather ambitious and the party has not properly gone through the sufficiency of funds, feasibility and implementation process. There have also been conflicting statements by its members. The party has a difficult task ahead in convincing disillusioned voters that it deserves a second chance.

    Background of the Party and the Candidate

    The UNP was founded by Don Stephen Senanyake in 1947 by merging three parties into one. From the beginning, the party represented the interests of the business community and the landed gentry. At the same time, it was prudent in adopting populist measures to gain acceptance in the lower and middle classes. The party has undergone significant changes in its fortunes since the 1970s. It was the dominant party in 1977 and held on to power for 17 years. It secured a four-fifths majority in the parliament that enabled it carry out comprehensive changes in the political and economic arena. Under J R Jayewardene’s leadership, the UNP liberalised the economy, moved away from the state-led socialist policies of the SLFP government and towards an open export-oriented economy. However, the UNP’s economic policies turned increasingly unpopular and dampened public confidence. Many of these policies were implemented due to lobbying of local and international business groups and rather than in the interests of the public. It led to the eventual victory of the People’s Alliance, led by the SLFP, in 1994. The UNP was then ousted and remained in opposition for close to two decades (except for a short period of 2001-2004).

    Following the UNP’s defeat, the party started a process of political reforms to restore public confidence under the leadership of Wickremesinghe. The new party leaders decided to maintain a low profile in the public eye while mapping out new policies on key issues. In 2015, the UNP returned to power when it supported a segment of the SLFP and its candidate, Sirisena. The unexpected breakaway of Sirisena, along with a group of members of parliament (MPs), was an unexpected twist of events that changed the country’s dynamics. The general elections, held later in 2015, consolidated the UNP’s victory and gave it a parliamentary majority to form a national government, along with sections of the SLFP.

    The fluctuations in the UNP’s political power have been accompanied by economic and political changes. The party introduced several macroeconomic policies, including market, constitutional and electoral reforms. When the party was defeated in 1994, it lost its ideological orientation of being an icon of free-market capitalism. It was only the 2015 surprise victory that provided a boost to UNP’s fortunes. It is surprising that the UNP has managed to survive as a major party despite continuous electoral losses, ineffective leadership and erosion of its ideological orientation.

    Premadasa is currently the Minister of Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs and MP for the Hambantota Electoral District. Unlike most of the politicians in Sri Lanka, who change parties frequently, Premadasa has shown his undivided loyalty to the UNP. He has challenged Wickremesinghe to become the party leader for many years and as a concession was given the position of a deputy leader.7 Although he is well connected and comes from an influential family, Premadasa has branded himself as a populist leader with a proven track record.

    Strengths and Challenges

    The nomination of Premadasa brings a set of strengths as well as challenges for the UNP. First, Wickremesinge has lost his legitimacy as an effective leader, especially after the government’s failure to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks. He has constantly tried to deflect blame, saying that he was unaware of the prior intelligence warnings. Wickremesinghe’s rising unpopularity has been a boost for Premadasa’s election campaign, where the latter has presented himself as a new contender who would introduce fresh policies and reforms.

    Second, Premadasa has given the party a nationalistic orientation by portraying himself as a devout Sinhalese Buddhist, a departure from Wickremesinghe’s pro-West and liberal stance. Premadasa is continuing on the same path as his father Ranasinghe by appealing to the conservative Sinhalese community, who usually vote for the SLFP (now the SLPP). During a major election rally, he said that he has the ‘patriotism and the Buddhist qualities of Ranasinghe Premadasa’ and will give ‘priority to Buddhism’. This could appeal to some Sinhalese voters.

    Third, Premadasa has initiated many grassroots projects on housing development, poverty reduction and youth movement. His family legacy of being Ranasinghe’s heir is likely to be an asset. Ranasinghe earned a reputation of being a populist and people-oriented leader with humble, working class beginnings. During his presidency, he initiated the Million Houses Programme to provide houses for the homeless, Gam Udawa (Village Awakening Movement), which developed neglected rural areas, and Jana Saviya (People’s Strength) for poverty eradication.10 Premadasa has also promised to revive some of his late father’s populist programmes such as the Jana Saviya scheme that will distribute more funds to low-income families. Restoring former populist policies could partially contribute to Premadasa’s election campaign. While human development issues such as poverty reduction, education, healthcare are not key issues this elections, they could still appeal to the rural community.

    Fourth, the coalition with Tamil and Muslim parties would help to bring some minority votes. The Global Tamil Forum (GTF)12 has urged Tamils to exercise their vote at the forthcoming election. In contrast, many Tamils accuse Gotabaya for political violence and repression during his tenure as the Defence Secretary. There are also civil cases against him in United States courts, including ordering the murder of a newspaper editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge, and the torture of a Tamil detainee, Roy Samathanam.

    There are also a number of challenges for the party. First, Premadasa has assumed the leadership of the incumbent government that has not fulfilled most of its promises. He is surrounded by the same group of politicians who have lost their credibility due to their failed policies. Amid the UNP’s failed governance, Premadasa has remained largely passive and unreceptive. He has played along and chose not to rock the boat.

    Second, the UNP started its election campaign one and a half months after the SLPP launched its campaign. Moreover, the UNP’s campaign has been largely unorganised and dispersed. Some of the ad hoc opinion polls state that he trails by the same margins as he started the election campaign.13 Although the UNP has taken the initiative to launch new apps, presumably to reach out to younger voters, most of them do not work. In contrast, Gotabaya’s election campaign has been much more articulate and coherent, with better functioning apps.

    Third, besides promising to make former army chief Sarath Fonseka his national security adviser presumably to challenge Gotabaya’s strong national security standing, Premadasa has not openly stated who else will a part of his cabinet. He said that he would appoint a new prime minister, implying that Wickremesinghe will not hold the position. In contrast, Wickremesinghe has publicly said that he would continue to the prime minister postelections. The clashing statements by Premadasa and Wickremesinghe demonstrate that the party is still undergoing internal issues and is unable to demonstrate a united front. If the UNP manages to win the elections, one cannot discount the probability of a power rivalry emerging between Premadasa and Wickremesinghe, like the one between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. Any internal rivalry would lead to serious implications on decisionmaking for the country.

    Fourth, while the support of some Tamil and Muslim parties could help to garner minority votes, it could also create anxiety within the Sinhalese community. The TNA stated in its press release that the new government would need to address issues of an acceptable political solution, missing persons, resettlement, rehabilitation, release of lands and people in custody. Many of these points coincide with the 13-point demands that it formulated with the Tamil Students Union from Jaffna University. The TNA’s demand for devolution of power into the Northern and Eastern provinces has been a sensitive issue for the core Sinhalese voters, who see it as a threat to the unitary state structure. Separately, there are allegations that some of the leaders of the Muslim parties have connections with the National Towheeth Jamaat, the terrorist group that orchestrated the deadly Easter Sunday attacks. The support of these Muslim parties could dissuade many Sinhalese voters from supporting the UNP.

    Fifth, Premadasa has not taken a clear stand on the 13-point demands raised by the TNA, while Gotabaya has outrightly rejected these demands (except for the 13th amendment). Premadasa may hesitate to take a firm stance because it would accuse him for pandering to the Tamil minority community and jeopardise his relationship with the conservative Sinhalese community. The UNP may be assuming that minority voters would cast for them simply because they dislike Gotabaya. Many may end up abstaining in their vote despite the GTF’s call to exercise their vote. The party’s lack of efforts to actively reach out to minority groups is limiting its prospects to build the biggest possible alliance, similar to the one formed in 2015 that brought it to victory.

    Conclusion

    Premadasa is surely a stronger contender against Gotabaya than Wickremesinghe. However, there are several challenges surrounding his election campaign. He has assumed the leadership of a highly unpopular party due to its substandard performance. The UNP’s electoral defeat at the 2018 local polls of 32.63 per cent was an indication of the waning public support for the party. Many are sceptical on whether the UNP would be able to implement the policies stated in its new manifesto.

    Regardless of the election outcome, the UNP will need to seek new policy changes and revamp itself in order to survive as a major political party. Although Wickremesinghe had to cede to party pressure to allow Premadasa to stand as the party candidate, his authority and power over the party remains intact. He continues to be the party leader, its prime ministerial contender and would become the Leader of Opposition if the UNP loses the elections. Furthermore, many of the members of the Working Committee hold their loyalty to Wickremesinghe. The inconsistencies and lapses in the UNP’s electoral campaign demonstrate that the party’s current state of affairs is self-destructive in nature.

    The UNP’s decision to nominate Premadasa, a young leader not associated with any faction, as its presidential candidate could be a strategy to unite the party divisions and give the impression that a change of candidate would organically change its unpopular and failed policies. It remains uncertain whether Premadasa’s Sinhala-Buddhist campaign of a moral high ground would appeal to the core Sinhalese nationalist constituency. Many in the Southern hinterland are strong supporters of Rajapaksa and are nostalgic about the economic prosperity the country saw during his government. On a more positive note, for those who have reservations about Gotabaya and the controversies surrounding his campaign, there is an alternative in Premadasa.

    . . . . .

    Ms Roshni Kapur is a Research Analyst at ISAS. She can be contacted at roshni@nus.edu.sg. Dr Chulanee Attanayake is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), an autonomous research institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS). She can be contacted at chulanee@nus.edu.sg. The authors bear full responsibility for the facts cited and opinions expressed in this paper.

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    Insights: Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election 2019: Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna a Key Contender

    Chulanee Attanayake and Roshni Kapur

    15 November, 2019

    The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has nominated Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Defense Secretary as its presidential candidate. Despite Gotabaya’s recent introduction to mainstream politics and the SLPP being a relatively new party they have emerged as key contenders who could resonate with voters. Amidst this backdrop this paper analyses the factors that make Gotabaya a frontrunner despite his controversies.

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    Insights: Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election 2019: Will the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna be an Alternative Force?

    Roshni Kapur, Chulanee Attanayake

    5 November, 2019

    After 20 years, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has nominated a candidate under the National People’s Power alliance. The JVP believes that it can be an alternative force to challenge the two main political parties. Despite its ambitious electoral promises, the JVP is unlikely to be a third contender during the upcoming presidential elections.

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    Insights: Noise over Substance – Modi-Xi Summit and Sino-Indian Relations

    Yogesh Joshi

    24 October, 2019

    Taking the Wuhan process further, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met for their second informal summit in India’s coastal town of Mamallapuram on 11 and 12 October 2019. Through the mechanism of such informal dialogue, Modi and Xi have demonstrated to the world that India and China are willing to engage with each other. High on optics, both Wuhan and Mamallapuram have, however, fallen short in reaching a substantive breakthrough in Sino-Indian relations.

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    Insights: Informal Summit: Smart Diplomacy to Address China-India Distrust

    Ren Yuanzhe and Archana Atmakuri

    21 October, 2019

    For decades, India and China have had fundamental underlying trust issues such as the border dispute, Chinese growing influence in India’s neighbouring countries, India’s trade deficit with China and finally China’s “all-weather” relationship with Pakistan. Amidst the deep distrust, there is willingness from both sides to work on ways to improve relations through the unique mechanism of informal meetings. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping for the Second Informal Summit in Mammallapuram, Chennai from 10-11 October 2019.

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    Insights: Hasina’s Visit to India: Few Issues Remain

    Amit Ranjan

    15 October, 2019

    The Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina had a successful visit to India; however, it seems that reassurances given by India on the question of the deportation of people excluded in the final NRC list, who would go through the subsequent legal process before being finally declared as ‘illegal’ immigrants, has not fully convinced the Bangladeshi side. Likewise, on India’s position on the Rohingya issue, which is looked as a departure from the past, ambiguity remains. Finally, as the Teesta water agreement remains inconclusive, the two countries are focussing on six smaller rivers.

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    Insights: Bank Consolidation: Necessary but Inadequate

    Dipinder S Randhawa

    15 October, 2019

    The consolidation of public sector banks is a much-needed step. However, the problems facing banking in India – ineffective governance, pervasive intervention by politicians in lending decisions, and an inability to resolve the mounting volume of non-performing loans – are much more severe and cannot be tackled through bank mergers alone. Public sector banks in India need deeper structural reforms to help revitalise growth in the economy.

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    Insights: Sri Lanka’s Presidential Elections: Initial Observations

    Chulanee Attanayake and Roshni Kapur

    24 September, 2019

    The forthcoming presidential elections in Sri Lanka would see a plethora of key issues discussed during the campaign; the foremost being national security and economic development.

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    Insights: 579: The Battle over India’s Data Policy Framework: What Gives?

    Karthik Nachiappan

    4 September, 2019

    Debates related to data localization are front and centre in India. India’s draft data legislation – the Personal Data Protection Bill that centred on localization with provisions extended to the protection of personal data appears to be on the cusp of being altered. This paper analyses how considerations at three different levels – global, national and subnational affect discussions on the newly proposed data bill that must reconcile factors related to security, innovation and accessibility. How Indian officials resolve this knot will give us an idea of the values underpinning India’s approach toward technology policies.

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    Insights: 578: V4-India Cooperation: Exploring the Potential of a New Europe

    Patryk Kugiel

    30 August, 2019

    The recent visit of Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr S. Jaishankar to Hungary and Poland in August 2019, sheds more light on India’s engagement with central Europe, the region that used to be off the radar of Indian foreign policy over the last 30 years1. This paper focuses on four countries in the region: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, which form the Visegrad Group (V4). It examines the potential for cooperation in the economic, political and strategic domains to show why the region does matter to India. It suggests that in order to boost cooperation India may engage Visegrad countries in a V4+ mechanism at the soonest.

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    Insights: The Radicalisation of Bangladeshi Migrant Workers in Singapore

    Nazneen Mohsina and Amit Ranjan

    22 August, 2019

    This discovery of radicalised individuals among blue-collar Bangladeshi migrant workers in Singapore in 2015 and 2016 raises the question of why and how some individuals from this demographic group may embrace extremist ideologies. This paper explores the factors for their radicalisation and argues that various dynamics in the global and domestic environments of these workers interact and align to influence their radicalisation.

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    Insights: Bangladesh: Growth at the Cost of the Environment?

    Amit Ranjan

    8 August, 2019

    Bangladesh is moving ahead in terms of economic growth. It is being projected that with the current rate of growth, by 2030, Bangladeshis will be richer than the average Indian in terms of per capita income. However, the environment remains a concern for the country. Air pollution is high, waste generation is increasing, and most of the available water is polluted.

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    Insights: India’s Tariffs and Implications for Indo-US Trade Prospects

    Amitendu Palit and Deeparghya Mukherjee

    1 August, 2019

    This paper compares India’s tariffs with those of some of the world’s other large emerging market developing countries to ascertain if Indian tariffs are indeed among the highest. The countries include Russia, Brazil, Mexico, China, Indonesia and South Africa. Along with India, these countries are members of G20 – the world’s most influential grouping of major economies – and are large emerging market economies. Some of these, such as Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa, continue to be beneficiaries of US GSP, while Mexico is part of the USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) along with Canada. US perceptions regarding Indian tariffs are likely to be determined in relation to those in these economies, apart from China and Russia.

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    Insights: Indian Start-ups Relocating to Singapore: Who Benefits?

    Dipinder S Randhawa

    23 July, 2019

    A significant cohort of start-ups from India has relocated to Singapore and elsewhere. This has raised concerns in some quarters in India about the ‘loss’ of business and investment to overseas start-up hubs. Are these concerns valid? Who benefits when start-ups relocate?

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    Insights: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in China: Bilateral, Regional and Global Implications

    Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

    18 July, 2019

    Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina concluded a visit to China in the first week of July 2019. By all accounts, it was a successful visit. Bangladesh committed itself to the Belt and Road Initiative, as well as to the strategic partnership, at which level the Bangladesh-China relationship had been raised. The Chinese reciprocated with comparable assurances of support. At the same time, as a result of the visit, the need for Bangladesh to navigate carefully between the cooperation with China and the relations with India and the United States came into broader relief. This calls for skilful diplomacy in the times ahead.

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    Insights: The Crisis in India’s Primary Education

    Dipinder S Randhawa

    17 July, 2019

    Findings of the 2018 Annual Status of Education Report highlight the crisis confronting primary education in India. The poor results raise serious concerns about the preparedness of India’s youth for subsequent education and the workplace. Why are India’s children not learning despite spending years in school? What measures can be undertaken to address the huge learning gap?

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    Insights: Vernacular Social Media and the 2019 General Elections

    John J Vater and Ronojoy Sen

    16 July, 2019

    The use of social media by all political parties in the 2019 Indian general elections has had a transformative effect on political campaigning in India. However, much of the focus has been on English social media platforms. This paper traces the use of regional language social media networks by political parties and the circulation of fake news during the elections.

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    Insights: Bitcoins and Fiat Currencies: India’s Concerns and Implications

    Deeparghya Mukherjee

    6 July, 2019

    As most of the developed world embraces the idea of crypto assets and cryptocurrencies, emerging economies like India have been debating the path they should take to accommodate the newest advances in financial technology into the financial system. This paper attempts to analyse the bitcoin as the most popular cryptocurrency, its major features in comparison with fiat currencies, the stance of India thus far and the possible path ahead.

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    Insights: Muslims and an Inclusive India under Modi 2.0

    Nazneen Mohsina, Mustafa Izzuddin, Tahira Namreen

    5 July, 2019

    The landslide victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India’s recent parliamentary elections and the re-election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister have, once again, cast a spotlight on the plight of Muslims in India. Although Muslim fears of a BJP-led government are not unfounded, Modi has been sending out positive signals in his outreach to them. However, Modi needs to match his rhetoric with action during his second term if he is to live up to his promise of building a strong and inclusive India.

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    Insights: Lessons from the Sri Lankan Easter Sunday Tragedy

    Mustafa Izzuddin and Chulanee Attanayake

    29 May, 2019

    The Easter Sunday tragedy in Sri Lanka on 21 April 2019 brought with it important domestic and international lessons. There is also a China focus on developments in Sri Lanka, primarily because of Beijing’s geopolitical interest in the Indian Ocean. Countries in South Asia are also keeping a close watch as regional neighbours because of the resurgence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and, more importantly, a stronger and more united Sri Lanka bodes well for regional stability in the South Asian region.

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    Insights: Universal Basic Income in India: The Rationale and Challenges

    Dipinder S Randhawa

    28 May, 2019

    Interest in a Universal Basic Income (UBI) in India grew with the publication of a chapter in the 2016-17 Economic Survey. A UBI is increasingly deemed to mitigate the effects of endemic poverty, with the potential to facilitate economic mobility and, eventually, development. This paper considers the challenges a UBI scheme is likely to encounter in India.

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    Insights: Universal Basic Income: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

    Dipinder S Randhawa

    28 May, 2019

    Over the past three decades, inequality has grown across the developed as well as the developing world. Today, it is widely acknowledged as one of the most serious problems facing the global economy. Bleak prospects for job creation, falling real wages and increasing automation are all indicative of diminishing prospects for economic mobility. The idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) is to provide an unconditional periodic grant to all citizens to enable them to lead sustainable lives, while providing them the freedom to make choices that help cope with growing uncertainties in labour markets. This is the first of two insights on this theme. The second focusses on prospects for a UBI in India.

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    Insights: Environmental Degradation: Never an Election Issue in India

    Amit Ranjan

    22 May, 2019

    As a result of environmental pollution, a large number of people die each year in India. In spite of that, environment-related issues and the impending threats due to environmental degradation hardly find any mention in major public discourses in the country. In the 2019 general elections, as in the case in the past, the political parties have provided space for environment-related issues in their manifestoes but almost none of their leaders have spoken about it in their election rallies. Beyond the political leaders, the environment also does not seem to be an important issue for the people and the media during the elections.

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    Insights: Afghanistan’s Future: How can Pakistan help?

    Touqir Hussain

    20 May, 2019

    This paper examines the prospects of peace and stability of Afghanistan after the expected withdrawal of foreign forces from an unsuccessful war lasting 18 years. In fact, Afghanistan’s troubles predate this war. For more than four decades, it has only seen strife and tension, while struggling with the building of modern political institutions and structure of governance reflecting its historical state and nation-building challenges. The Taliban were just one among many of these challenges the current war could not resolve. The United States (US) and the Taliban are now talking to end the war. However, for a lasting solution for Afghanistan, the countries in the region and the US have to remain committed for Afghanistan’s sake and for their own sake. Pakistan has a crucial role to play to put pressure on the Taliban to share power. It will not do so without a new relationship with Afghanistan that accommodates its security and strategic interests. And Washington must remain engaged with both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It should also develop some understanding with India, China and Russia. Without these arrangements, the Americans may leave but the conflict could continue with a different name.

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    Insights: BJP Banking on Fortress Gujarat but Faces Challenge in Maharashtra

    Nalin Mehta

    14 May, 2019

    The two western Indian states of Gujarat and Maharashtra together account for 74 out of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament). The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept all 26 Gujarat Lok Sabha seats in 2014. In 2019, Gujarat, the home ground of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP President, Amit Shah, remains a major prestige battle. The Congress is counting on making inroads into the state after doing well in the assembly elections in December 2017 but the BJP seems to have recovered some ground here since then. Maharashtra, with 48 Lok Sabha seats, sends the second-highest contingent of members of parliament to the Lok Sabha after Uttar Pradesh (UP). Like in UP, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is facing a tough battle in Maharashtra with a renewed Nationalist Congress Party leading the United Progressive Alliance’s charge. It has emerged as a major battleground in 2019 whose result could be decisive for government formation in Delhi. This paper summarises the political outlook in both these western Indian states and examines the key factors at play.

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    Insights: India and the South Pacific

    Anil Wadhwa

    29 April, 2019

    The issues faced by the Pacific Island States have consistently shaped India’s policy towards the region, which has been in the form of aid, grants, soft loans, and capacity building over the past decades, although at a modest level. This paper looks at the opportunities and challenges for India to deepen its engagement with the region.

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    Insights: Decoding India’s Strategic Weapons Capabilities

    Yogesh Joshi

    23 April, 2019

    India’s recent Anti-Satellite weapons (ASAT) test has extended its strategic deterrent into outer space. Built upon India’s Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) program, an ASAT capability allows India to bridge the gap with China in the weaponisation of outer space but also makes New Delhi a major stakeholder in any future negotiations over arms control in outer space. This paper outlines India’s ASAT capabilities, underlines the similarities and differences between its BMD and ASAT program and highlights the changes in India’s approach to strategic weapons systems and what it means for India’s emergence as a great power.

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    Insights: 560 : India’s Hindi Heartland Key to General Elections

    Nalin Mehta

    11 April, 2019

    With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a second term in India’s general elections, scheduled between April and May 2019, the outcome of the poll battle will depend a great deal on how 10 states in the country’s Hindi-speaking heartland in north and central India vote. Modi’s historic win in 2014 as the first leader in three decades to win a full majority in India’s lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, was powered by unprecedented gains for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in these states. The BJP won over 84 per cent of seats in the Hindi heartland in that election. This paper summarises the political outlook of India’s Hindi heartland in 2019, examines key factors at play in each of its constituent states and puts together cumulative data from the various state-wise opinion polls and assembly elections to illustrate how the Indian political chessboard has shifted and the likely prospects as India heads into its national election.

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    Insights: 559 : A Comprehensive Election Victory: What Next for the Maldivian Democratic Party?

    Amit Ranjan

    10 April, 2019

    The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), led by the President of the Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, swept to victory in the 6 April 2019 parliamentary elections. A majority representation in the Parliament will help the government take some important decisions which may re-shape the country’s domestic and foreign policies, and transform its debt-ridden economy. Some of these domestic and economic policies may redefine the MDP’s political relationships with its coalition partners, especially, the Jumhooree Party.

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    Insights: 558 : Saudi Arabia’s Rising Profile in South Asia

    Omair Anas

    9 April, 2019

    Saudi Arabia is faced with its most serious challenge, to transform and reconfigure an old, religiously legitimised, rent-dependent, and West-dependent for security, Kingdom into a diversified economy, popularly legitimized and sensitive to the decline of the West and the rise of the rest. This requires a multi-pronged strategy that includes rewriting its South Asian engagement beyond the issues of oil and expatriates. The Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman’s recent Asia visit aimed at securing greater security and economic partnership, an objective he cannot achieve without recognizing South Asia as being part of a post-American global system, defined by the SCO and the rise of the BRICS countries. The article explains the domestic and regional determinants of Saudi Arabia’s quest for a new South Asia Policy and the gradual rise of its South Asia profile.

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    Insights: 557 : Elections in Andhra Pradesh – Issues and Possible Scenarios

    Ronojoy Sen, Amitendu Palit and Diego Maiorano

    4 April, 2019

    Andhra Pradesh is one of two major India states where national and state elections will be held simultaneously on 11 April 2019. Past results seem to suggest that the voters tend to choose the same party in both national and state polls if they are held simultaneously. Opinion polls and ground level reports indicate that the opposition YSR Congress (YSRC) has the edge against the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Anti-incumbency and the inability of the current Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu, to get a special package for Andhra Pradesh are some of the factors going against the TDP. A government of the YSRC will continue with the development of Amaravati, but could revisit some of the projects associated with it.

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    Insights: 556 : Japan in the Infrastructure Sector of Northeast India

    Rupakjyoti Borah

    29 March, 2019

    In the last couple of years, Japan has been investing in India’s north-eastern region in a big way. This paper analyses the growing cooperation between Japan and India in the infrastructure sector in Northeast India and the challenges which both the countries face in this arena.

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    Insights: 555 : National Budget Sri Lanka: A Budget to Empower People

    Chulanee Attanayake

    26 March, 2019

    Sri Lanka’s 2019 Budget is significant due to several reasons. Before it was presented, the Budget was predicted to be a populist one as 2019 is an election year. Surprisingly, the Finance Minister presented a budget which is balanced; i.e. which continues its liberal economic policies as well as demands of the public. This paper analyses some key features of Budget 2019.

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    Insights: 554 : Sabarimala: Controversy over Women’s Access to the Temple

    Silvia Tieri and Emma J. Flatt

    26 March, 2019

    In India, the two practices of menstrual taboo and gender-selective access to places of worship come together, as women are prevented from accessing certain shrines by virtue of the menstruating nature of their body. Recently the Supreme Court of India ordered the lifting of a legal ban, which prevented women of menstruating age from entering a famous Hindu temple. The Court’s judgement endorsed feminist activists’ claim that the ban is discriminatory against women, hence anti-constitutional. On the other hand, religious and political institutions and devotees (including women) maintain that the ban is a canonized religious custom, which must be observed out of respect for the religious sentiment of Hindus. The judgement divided public opinion and fuelled a wave of protests, often backed by opposition parties; it is also likely to have important consequences for the future of management of religious affairs in India.

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    Insights: 553 : Reversing 1979: Gulf Reforms and South Asia

    C Raja Mohan and Nazneen Mohsina

    25 March, 2019

    Recent reforms in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula have drawn worldwide interest. But South Asia has devoted little attention to the internal developments in the Peninsula that could have long term implications for the region. Given the historic dynamics between the subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula, this paper suggests that the potential evolution of the Arabian Peninsula towards political and religious moderation could help counter the many negative trends in South Asia. The paper reviews the past negative impact of the Arabian Peninsula’s developments on South Asia since the tumultuous events of 1979 and looks at the new promise of its reversal and its potential consequences for South Asia.

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    Insights: 552 : India’s Race For The Security Council: Will She Reach The Finishing Line?

    Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

    20 March, 2019

    The essay focuses on India’s quest for a permanent seat in the Security Council. While analysing the debate and diplomacy in this connection, the essay is crafted around a recent book by an Indian diplomat, Dilip Sinha, entitled: Legitimacy of Power: The Permanence of Five in the Security Council.

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    Insights: 551 : Attaining Entitlement: Women Farmers and Land Rights

    Vani Swarupa Murali and Emma J. Flatt

    19 March, 2019

    From 29-30 November 2018, at the peak of the Rabi cropping season, tens of thousands of farmers from across India forewent their daily wages to take part in the Dilli Challo (On to Delhi) or Kisan Mukti (Farmer’s Liberation) march. This march, organised by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (umbrella body of farmers and agricultural workers) saw farmers pushing for two main bills to be passed – the Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill 2018 and The Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill 2018.1 Within the march, largely unnoticed by the media, was a sizeable contingent of women farmers demanding the passing of a separate bill: the Women Farmers’ Entitlement Bill. Whilst they did not receive as much coverage as the men, this paper argues that the women’s fight warrants just as much attention as the men’s.

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    Insights: 550 : Politicisation of Data Under the Modi Regime

    Diego Maiorano

    18 March, 2019

    India has built, over the last few decades, a strong reputation regarding the credibility and availability of data. However, under the Modi regime, there have been several instances of data manipulation. This article shows how the government has been delaying, inflating and withholding access to public data. This could have severe repercussions in terms of India’s international reputation, democratic accountability and policy design.

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    Insights: 549 : Why Alliances could matter in India’s General Election

    Ronojoy Sen

    18 March, 2019

    In the run up to the Indian general election, scheduled to be held over April and May 2019, political parties are busy firming up alliances. Of the two national parties, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been much quicker off the blocks compared to the Indian National Congress. Part of the reason behind the BJP’s urgency is the expectation that it might not be able to get a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament). The Congress, in contrast, has been bogged down by seat sharing details. Alliances have been struck by regional parties in several states, too, with the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party tie-up in Uttar Pradesh being the most significant.

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    Insights: 548 : Can Minimum Income Schemes and Loan Waivers help Farmers in India?

    Amitendu Palit and Vani Swarupa Murali

    18 March, 2019

    The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme on 24 February 2019. Involving an expenditure of ₹750 billion (S$15 billion), the scheme would provide a minimum income of ₹6,000 (S$117) per year to around 120 million small and marginal farmers. The scheme has been criticized by many as a populist effort by the Modi government for securing the votes of farmers. As this paper argues, Indian political parties are shying away from implementing policies that could have helped in increasing farmer incomes. Efforts like amending state Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Acts and encouraging large investments in food supply chains can help farmers in reaching wider markers and getting higher prices. Unfortunately, these are being avoided in favour of politically appealing, but economically suboptimal options, like loan waivers and minimum income.

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    Insights: 547 : Understanding India’s reluctance at the WTO E-commerce Talks

    Dipinder S Randhawa

    18 March, 2019

    On 25 January 2019, a group of 75 countries announced that they would launch informal discussions at the WTO to formulate trading norms and regulations for e-commerce trade. Despite its professed faith in multilateral discussions, why has India been reluctant to participate in a new round of discussions on e-commerce?

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    Insights: 546 : A Dichotomy of Values in Foreign Policy

    Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

    17 March, 2019

    This paper argues that while western and eastern notions of values in foreign policy might apparently differ, dichotomising relevant thoughts and policies into silos would be unrealistic. In a globalised world, borders between the two are tending to disappear. Today, while the natural predilection of a state actor in the global scene may be to try and shape its external environment in accordance with its own historical and cultural experiences, as well as precepts to advance its perceived interests, there would be restraints of various kinds, including size and capabilities.

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    Insights: 545 : Parliamentary Elections and Challenges in the Maldives

    Amit Ranjan

    17 March, 2019

    Favourable results in the upcoming parliamentary elections in the Maldives will allow President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government to take some strong measures to reinvigorate the country’s economy, which has been pushed into debt by former President Abdulla Yameen (2013-2018). Apart from the economy, the Yameen government had also neglected the country’s old allies by shifting the country’s foreign policy to favour new-found friends. This paper looks at the rift within the ruling coalition, and the present status of the Maldives’ economy and foreign policy.

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    Insights: 544 : India and Peru FTA: Issues and Concerns

    Rahul Choudhury

    17 March, 2019

    India and Peru met on 11 March 2019 to continue their ongoing negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) for goods and services. The proposed FTA will open avenues for India to penetrate into the Latin American market using Peru as a commercial base while Peru will have access to the Indian market, which has more than a billion potential consumers. This paper analyses the possible benefits for both economies arising from this agreement.

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    Insights: 543 : Indian General Elections Announced

    Vinod Rai

    13 March, 2019

    The election schedule to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha was announced on 10 March 2019. Indians will yet again go to the ballot box, to elect a new government. The entire mammoth exercise will be spread over seven phases with counting to be done on 23 May 2019. We analyse the thought process behind setting up a unitary body for the legislative bodies at the central and state levels, the use of the electronic voting machine, the efficacy of the model conduct and the attempt to have simultaneous elections in the states and the centre.

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    Insights: 542 : India-Pakistan Standoff: What We Know, What We Do Not Know and What They Want Us to Know

    Iqbal Singh Sevea

    12 March, 2019

    Both India and Pakistan have indulged in a media and information battle with government and military officials actively utilizing various forms of media – including newspapers, news channels, Twitter and Facebook – to put out their versions of what happened. In Pakistan, the military has also been able to control the information available to the public through censorship. In India, public opinion is being shaped, not just through the media, but also through electoral rallies. India is months away from a general election and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is keen to demonstrate that it is willing and able to take a strong stance against Pakistan. This paper analyzes what we know and still do not know about the strikes. It evaluates the claims being made by India and Pakistan. This paper shows that while official statements from India and Pakistan confirm that Indian planes bombed a site in or around Balakot, we do not yet know what these bombs struck. It is also shown that there are outstanding questions over the specifics of the subsequent Pakistani strikes. It remains to be determined what targets Pakistan struck and where exactly the subsequent aerial engagement between India and Pakistan took place. Intertwined in this is the issue of whether Pakistan deployed American made F-16 planes against India. If so, this may have violated the terms of purchase agreed upon between Pakistan and the US.

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    Insights: 541 : Foreign Policy and Voting Pattern in India

    Amit Ranjan

    8 March, 2019

    For almost all Indian voters, foreign policy is not an important determinant in the elections. However, the issues related to it do, to a certain extent, influence decisions of a number of voters. This is especially in the states which border one of the neighbouring countries. In some states, foreign policy-related issues have almost turned into a significant domestic issue which affect the day to day lives of people so it determines the voting behaviour of a large number of people living there. This paper looks at the impact of foreign policy-related issues on voters. It argues that such issues influence voters only when they take on a local angle and affect their lives.

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    Insights: 540 : Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Andamans: India ends the Neglect of the Strategic Island Chain

    C Raja Mohan and Ankush Ajay Wagle

    8 March, 2019

    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first visit to the Andaman and Nicobar islands from 29 to 30 December 2018. Modi’s visit puts a spotlight on the belated development of the strategically important island territory. Since 2014, when the National Democratic Alliance government came into power, Delhi has made incremental advances in building infrastructure, strengthening connectivity, promoting trade and tourism and boosting the security presence on the island chain.

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    Insights: 539 : The Maldives: Resolution of Constitutional Conundrum? Not Just Yet!

    Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

    7 March, 2019

    For a tiny, picturesque and homogenous country, the Maldives has experienced volatile politics in modern times. It has had more constitutions than any other South Asian state, most of which have been tried and proven failed. All organs of governance – the executive, the parliament, the bureaucracy as well as the courts – have contributed to its tumultuous politics. Its strategic location in the Indian Ocean has attracted the attention of the main regional protagonists, India and China, which impacts on its domestic politics as its external shell of protection is weak. It is also susceptible to the vagaries of climate change, which calls for concerted and coherent policies that embattled governments are unable to provide. The presidential elections ushered change in 2018, and now parliamentary elections are due on 6 April 2019. A way out of political imbroglio is sought, but the possibility of success in this regard is small.

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    Insights: 538 : Japan as the Chair of the G20 – Implications for South Asia

    Duvvuri Subbarao and Rupakjyoti Borah

    7 March, 2019

    Japan has become the Chair of the G20 for 2019. The G20 has no permanent secretariat and has no specific mandate beyond discussing the most critical issues facing the global economy. As such, it has now become standard practice for the chair country to set the agenda for the year of its chairmanship. Japan has set an ambitious agenda, including free trade, infrastructure for development, climate change and the impact of ageing populations. The headway that Japan makes in securing global cooperation in addressing these compelling challenges will have profound implications for South Asia.

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    Insights: 537 : India’s Economy – Concerns and the Road Ahead

    S Narayan

    25 February, 2019

    The financial markets in India are under stress due to defaults in several companies and this is affecting the availability of credit for the goods and services sectors. Lenders have become risk averse. At the same time, consumption demand in small towns is growing. There are also new industries and technologies that are attracting investments, thereby providing a fillip to the India economy. However, the new government would have to meet the many challenges to put the economy back on an even keel.

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    Insights: 536 : Does Pulwama jeopardise Pakistan’s potential IMF deal?

    Rani D Mullen and Duvvuri Subbarao

    25 February, 2019

    Is it possible that Pakistan has scored an own-goal by allegedly sponsoring the 14 February 2019 terrorist attack on Indian security forces in Pulwama, Kashmir, which took 40 lives? Since the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammed has claimed responsibility for the attack, India has vowed to work on isolating Pakistan economically and diplomatically as a state sponsor of terrorism. This comes at a time when Pakistan is facing an external payments crisis, with only US$7 billion (S$9.5 billion) in reserves – less than two months of import cover – and is in desperate need of a bailout by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yet, if India succeeds in convincing major shareholders of the IMF – the United States, the European countries, Japan and China – and international organisations like the terror financing watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force, of Pakistan state’s involvement in these attacks, an IMF bailout of Pakistan, which looked like a distinct possibility just a couple of weeks ago after the meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, could be in jeopardy. Unless Pakistan takes significant steps to convince the G7 and other countries that it is serious about combatting home-grown terrorism, it risks going over the precipice.

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    Insights: 535 : Zero Budget Natural Farming in Andhra Pradesh: Towards Sustainable and Profitable Farming

    Amitendu Palit, Sarin Paraparakath, Trishala Kaviti and Sriharsha Chilla

    8 February, 2019

    Introduced a little more than three years ago, the Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) programme in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has attracted considerable international attention. The ZBNF is a farming practice that avoids the use of external chemical inputs and relies on drawing inputs from nature itself. Implemented by the Rythu Sadhikara Samastha, a not-for-profit company of the government of Andhra Pradesh, the ZBNF has been adopted by more than 163,000 farmers in 9,722 villages across all 13 districts of the state. Initial results on the adoption of the ZBNF practices in the state are encouraging in terms of higher net incomes for farmers and greater crop yield. The key implementation challenge is to maintain the rate of progress on its wider adoption by encouraging farmers to switch from conventional chemical input-based farming to the ‘natural’ ZBNF practice.

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    Insights: 534 : Citizenship (Amendment) Bill: Re-Defining Identity

    Amit Ranjan

    25 January, 2019

    The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is seen in Assam as against the letters and spirit of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. The local population from the state and other parts of northeast India feel that, with this bill coming into effect, the region will be flooded with a large number of immigrants, which will dilute their culture and identity. On the other hand, the Union government of India argues that the persecuted religious minorities from the neighbouring countries have nowhere to go except India. It has also been clarified that those people can go to any state of India, and not only to Assam. However, given the history of immigration and tensions due to it, a section of Assamese and people from the neighbouring states are not convinced by this argument.

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    Insights: 533 : The Indian Elections and the Rural Sector

    Diego Maiorano and Vani Swarupa Murali

    19 January, 2019

    The increasing visibility of farmer distress towards the end of 2018 and the results from the recent state elections reveal the significance of the farmer vote. Looking at both the farmer protests and the caste protests, in relation to Prime Minister Modi’s promises, reveal the causes behind the recent farmer protests. A growing attempt to win over the farmers is predicted in the run up to the 2019 general election.

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    Insights: 532 : Polls in Bangladesh: Implications for Future Theory and Practice of Electoral Politics

    Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

    14 January, 2019

    The dust from the elections in Bangladesh of 30 December 2018 is yet to be settled. This paper analyses the lead-up to and the conduct of the polls, including the results and the implications. Yet, it is already apparent that these will not only have consequences for Bangladesh’s immediate and future civic evolution, but could also provide interesting theoretical inputs into the understanding of post-colonial political debate.

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